Zdeněk Štybar on the Paterberg at Dwars door Vlaanderen.

Happy trails, Zdeněk Štybar: A retrospective

We bid farewell to the multi-disciplinary star, who has finally called it a career.

Dane Cash
by Dane Cash 07.02.2024 Photography by
Kristof Ramon and Cor Vos
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More than 15 years after he won his first Cyclocross World Cup race and nabbed his first elite medal at ‘cross Worlds, Zdeněk Štybar officially called it a career this past weekend at Tabor Worlds in his home country of Czechia, also known as the Czech Republic. It was a career that saw him stand atop podiums across disciplines in a way that seems all too common now, in the age of Mathieu van der Poel, Wout van Aert, and Tom Pidcock, but it was more of the exception than the rule back when Štybar made the crossover (pun only partially intended).

Unlike multi-disciplinary predecessors like Roger De Vlaeminck, Adrie van der Poel, and Marianne Vos, Štybar was very much a ‘cross-focused star only until he decided to broaden his horizons rather than a dual-sport dynamo from the jump. When he did ultimately move into the WorldTour peloton, it would be an impressive run lasting 13 years, in which he would ultimately see several other CX talents take a similar path.

As the 38-year-old Czech star rides off into the sunset, we decided to bid him a fond, photo-filled farewell.

A young Zdeněk Štybar in the rainbow bands of the U23 world champ.
Before he was an elite World Champion, A young Zdeněk Štybar took two under-23 world titles.

It was more than 20 years ago that Štybar emerged onto the radars of some fans when he nabbed a bronze medal in the juniors race at Cyclocross Worlds all the way back in 2002. He would go on to an under-23 world title two years later, and from there, he began to build his stellar résumé.

He broke into the elite ranks with style, taking a World Cup win at Kalmthout in 2007, and from that point on, he was almost constantly in the mix to win big races.

Zdeněk Štybar en route to victory in Kalmthout.
Štybar’s Kalmthout win was the first of many career victories on the World Cup.
Zdeněk Štybar wins a world title.
Zdeněk Štybar gave the crowds in Tabor something to celebrate in 2010 with his first World Championship.

It wasn’t long after that Štybar would embark on his grand adventure into the WorldTour peloton on the road. As we’ve mentioned, he would certainly not be the first big cyclocross name to find success in the road peloton – but nor was his decision to cross over an entirely obvious one. He was already a 26-year-old ‘cross star by the time he made the conscious decision to refocus on road racing, and many cyclocross luminaries of the time – Niels Albert, Erwin Vercken, and of course Sven Nys – chose to stay within the confines of veldrijden.

Understandably, there was a lot of hype around Štybar’s venture at the time.

He rode a light road program at the Continental level with Fidea throughout his early racing career, but it was in 2011 that he took a major step forward as a roadie when he joined QuickStep on the heels of his second elite CX world title. His first road season was a quiet one without any pro wins, but it would only take so long for his talents to show themselves. He won a stage at the Four Days of Dunkirk in 2012 before things really took off in 2013.

The cobbles of Paris-Roubaix seemed like a natural fit for his talents and he wasted no time in showing those talents off on his debut there in 2013. A 28-year-old Štybar survived deep into the always grueling Monument to get into what would ultimately be the winning move with Fabian Cancellara and Sep Vanmarcke inside the final 20 km.

Zdeněk Štybar with Sep Vanmarcke and Fabian Cancellara at Paris-Roubaix in 2013.
Štybar seemed primed for Classics greatness even as early as his Roubaix debut.

A collision with someone standing along the road, however, led to him being dropped, and he had to settle for sixth on the day.

He would not let it ruin his season. A few months later, he stormed to his first WorldTour wins at the Eneco Tour, taking two stages and the overall, heralding his arrival as a bona fide contender on the road.

Zdeněk Štybar wins stage 3 of the Eneco Tour.
The 2013 Eneco Tour win was another sign of good things to come.
Zdeněk Štybar wins stage 7 of the Vuelta a España.
He didn’t stop there. Within that very same month, he went on to win his first Grand Tour stage at the Vuelta a España, in front of a rival who would later become a teammate: Philippe Gilbert.

All told, his 2013 season confirmed that he did indeed have the chops to hang with the best on the road, and shortly thereafter, he put his proverbial cyclocross hat back on in emphatic fashion, making a handful of starts before heading to Worlds, where he engaged in a fierce battle with the legendary Sven Nys.

In an instant-classic, back and forth race that saw numerous attacks and crashes, Štybar would win the duel, taking his third career title as he denied Nys in Hoogerheide.

Sven Nys and Zdeněk Štybar at cyclocross worlds in 2014.
After his breakthrough 2013 campaign on the road, Štybar jumped back over to ‘cross racing to deny Sven Nys a world title in the 2013-2014 season.
Zdeněk Štybar wins cyclocross worlds in 2014.
Štybar made it three ‘cross world titles in 2014.

Over the next several years, Štybar went through some high highs and some low lows. He crashed heavily at the 2014 Eneco Tour, suffering major facial injuries, but he recovered to win that year’s Binche-Chimany-Binche and then enjoyed a banner year in 2015, winning Strade Bianche and taking runner-up honors at E3 Harelbeke and Roubaix before he achieved a career highlight: a stage win at the Tour de France.

In a crash-marred uphill finale on the Tour’s sixth stage into Le Havre, Štybar shot off the front and held on to take the win.

Zdeněk Štybar wins stage 6 of the Tour de France.
A bad crash in 2014 could only keep Štybar down for so long. He won a Tour stage the following year.

Over the ensuing seasons, Štybar developed into a veteran presence on a QuickStep team that enjoyed an impressive run of years in the Classics. While delivering respectable results of his own, Štybar was often a foil for others like Niki Terpstra or Philippe Gilbert, but after several years of faithful teamwork and solid results, he scored several big results of his own in 2019, one of his finest seasons.

Zdeněk Štybar en route to victory at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
It was a long time coming, but Štybar finally won a big Belgian one-day at the 2019 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
When it rains, it pours: Štybar followed up his first big Classics win in Flanders with his second, taking E3 that same year.

At the ensuing edition of Paris-Roubaix a few weeks later, Gilbert would score the win for QuickStep with Štybar one of three other team members inside the top 10. Though a Monument win would ultimately elude Štybar himself, his 2019 campaign was a testament to the talent that he had shown in flashes throughout his ‘cross and road career.

As Štybar entered the twilight years of his time in the pro peloton, he saw the rise of superstars like Van der Poel and Van Aert, who followed a similar career trajectory as Štybar had once done while ultimately soaring to greater heights. By that point, Štybar was serving as more of a road captain with QuickStep as Kasper Asgreen and other younger riders emerged to lead the team in the one-day races, but the Czech talent stuck with the Belgian squad through 2022 before riding on for one last road season with Jayco-AlUla.

It was a quieter campaign compared to some of his more successful years, but Štybar did land on the podium at the Hong Kong Cyclothon. Then it was onto a farewell cyclocross campaign, culminating in one last trip to Cyclocross Worlds on home turf. He was duly feted by the home crowds in Tabor as he ground his way through a muddy course to finish 31st.

Zdenek Stybar races in a cyclocross event. He's running alongside his bike and wearing his privateer kit, which he wore for his final events as a pro. The white jersey fades to black shorts, and has Stybar written across the chest, with personal sponsors. The collar and sleeve cuffs are finished in rainbow bands to signify his world titles.
After his Jayco-AlUla contract ended on December 31, 2023, Štybar raced his final cyclocross events in a custom kit with personal sponsors. On the back are thank-yous to longtime supporters.
Štybar at cyclocross worlds in the Czech Republic.
Štybar put on one last show this past weekend in the Czech Republic.
Zdenek Stybar gives two thumbs up as he rides down the finish straight at the 2024 World Cyclocross Championships. He is in the blue, white and red kit of the Czechia national team, and the barriers are lined with fans cheering and waving flags to salute his long career.
A hero’s welcome to a rider finishing his career on home soil.

With his final start in the rearview mirror, Zdeněk Štybar can hopefully look back on his career with satisfaction. After all, he is not only a three-time world ‘cross champ, but also a two-time Grand Tour stage victor, a winner of multiple major one-day races, and a perennial podium contender at the Monuments. All in all, it seems pretty deserving of a champagne celebration if you ask us.

Cheers to you, Zdeněk Štybar, for helping to light the way for this latest generation of ‘cross crossover stars and giving us more than a decade of entertainment on a wide variety of terrains.

Zdenek Stybar holds a microphone as he addresses the crowd at the 2024 World Cyclocross Championships. He is standing on the podium, while next to him, winner and six-time World Champion Mathieu van der Poel looks on with respect.
It’s not often a rider who finishes 31st is asked to address the crowd while the winner looks on, but Zdeněk Štybar was not just any rider, particularly for the home fans in Czechia.
Zdeněk Štybar celebrates his career.
Cheers, Zdeněk Štybar!

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